search   index   by subject   by year   biographies   books  SF Activities  shop museum   contact


Timeline of the San Francisco Earthquake
April 18 - 23, 1906
This timeline is excerpted from Gladys Hansen’s “Chronology of the Great Earthquake, and the 1906-1907 Graft Investigations.”

April 18, 1906
San Francisco was wrecked by a Great Earthquake at 5:13 a.m., and then destroyed by the seventh Great Fire that burned for four days. Hundreds, perhaps thousands of trapped persons died when South-of-Market tenements collapsed as the ground liquefied beneath them. Most of those buildings immediately caught fire, and trapped victims could not be rescued. Reevaluation of the 1906 data, during the 1980s, placed the total earthquake death toll at more than 3,000 from all causes. Damage was estimated at $500,000,000 in 1906 dollars.

Fire Chief Engineer Dennis T. Sullivan was mortally wounded when the dome of the California Theatre and hotel crashed through the fire station in which he was living at 410-412 Bush St. Acting Chief Engineer John Dougherty commanded fire operations.

The earthquake shock was felt from Coos Bay, Oregon, to Los Angeles, and as far east as central Nevada, an area of about 375,000 square miles, approximately half of which was in the Pacific Ocean. The region of destructive effect extended from the southern part of Fresno County to Eureka, about 400 miles, and for a distance of 25 to 30 miles on either side of the fault zone. The distribution of intensity within the region of destruction was uneven. Of course, all structures standing on or crossing the rift were destroyed or badly damaged. Many trees standing near the fault were either uprooted or broken off. Perhaps the most marked destruction of trees was near Loma Prieta in Santa Cruz County, where, according to Dr. John C. Branner of Stanford University, “The forest looked as though a swath had been cut through it two hundred feet in width.” In little less than a mile he counted 345 earthquake cracks running in all directions.

U.S. Post Office at Seventh and Mission sts. was dreadfully damaged by the earthquake. Assistant to the Postmaster Burke said, “walls had been thrown into the middle of various rooms, destroying furniture and covering everything with dust. In the main corridors the marble was split and cracked, while the mosaics were shattered and had come rattling down upon the floor. Chandeliers were rent and twisted by falling arches and ceilings.”

Fireman James O’Neill, drawing water for the horses in Fire Station No. 4 on Howard Street opposite Hawthorne, was killed when a wall of the American Hotel collapsed onto the fire station.

Police officer Max Fenner was mortally wounded when a wall collapsed upon him at 138 Mason Street.

All telephone and telegraph communications stopped within the city, although some commercial telegraph circuits to New York and to India, via the Pacific cable at the Ocean Beach, remained in temporary operation.

A messenger arrived at Ft. Mason at 6:30 a.m. with orders from Gen. Funston to send all available troops to report to the mayor at the Hall of Justice.

First army troops from Fort Mason reported to Mayor Schmitz at the Hall of Justice around 7 a.m.

At 8 a.m., the 10th, 29th, 38th, 66th, 67th, 70th and 105th Companies of Coast Artillery, Troops I and K of the 14th Cavalry and the First, Ninth and 24th Batteries of Field Artillery arrived Downtown to take up patrol.

Seventy-five soldiers from Companies C and D, Engineer Corps were assigned to the Financial District at 8 a.m., and another 75 along Market from Third Street to the City Hall at Grove and Larkin streets.

A major aftershock struck at 8:14 a.m., and caused the collapse of many damaged buildings. There was much panic.

Second day session of the Grand Chapter of the Royal Arch Masons of the state of California fifty-second annual convocation. The group met after the earthquake but evacuated before the temple at Montgomery and Post streets was destroyed by fire. The Masons listed the date as April 18, A.I. 2436, A.D.

At 10 a.m. Headquarters and First Battalion 22nd Infantry, were brought from Ft. McDowell by boat, and were held for a time in reserve at O’Farrell St. They were later utilized as patrols and to assist the fire department.

At about 10:05 a.m. the DeForest Wireless Telegraph Station at San Diego radioed press reports of the disaster at San Francisco to the “U.S.S. Chicago.” Admiral Caspar Goodrich immediately ordered fires started under all boilers, and after a confirmation message from the Mayor of San Diego, the “Chicago” steamed at full speed for San Francisco. It was the first time wireless telegraphy was used in a major natural disaster.

At 10:30 a.m., the “U.S.S. Preble” from Mare Island, under the command of Lt. Frederick Newton Freeman, landed a hospital shore party at the foot of Howard St. to help the wounded and dying who sought help at Harbor Emergency Hospital.

Another fire broke out at 395 Hayes St. on the southwest corner of Hayes and Gough. It would become known as the “Ham and Egg” fire, and would destroy part of the Western Addition, the Mechanics’ Pavilion, City Hall and then jump Market Street at Ninth.

General Funston’s staff abandoned the Dept. of California’s Headquarters in the Phelan Building, across from the Palace Hotel, at 11 a.m. They did manage to save valuable records.

Winchester Hotel caught fire at Third and Stevenson streets and collapsed at 11 a.m.

Fort Miley troops, the 25th and 64th Companies Coast Artillery, arrived at 11:30 a.m.

Two earthquake in Los Angeles just before noon, about ten minutes apart. The quaking began as crowds gathered around bulletin boards to read the latest telegraphic dispatches from San Francisco. Thousands ran in panic when the earthquakes struck.

Hearst Building at Third and Market streets caught fire at noon.

Evacuation of the injured from Mechanics’ Pavilion, Grove and Larkin, began at noon because of the spreading “Ham and Egg” fire. The wounded were taken to Golden Gate Park, Children’s Hospital and the Presidio.

Mechanics’ Pavilion took fire at 1 p.m.

St. Mary’s Hospital at First and Bryant sts. was abandoned to the fire at 1 p.m. Patients were loaded aboard the ferryboat “Modoc” and taken to Oakland.
Entire area in the Financial District, behind the Hall of Justice, was on fire by 1 p.m.

Fires so threatened the Portsmouth Square area by 1 p.m. that General Manager Hewitt of the Dept. of Electricity decided to abandon the Central Fire Alarm Station at 15 Brenham Place in Chinatown.

Restaurant atop the Call, or Claus Spreckels Building, at Third and Market streets, took fire at 2 p.m.

Postal Telegraph operators transmitted their last message to the outside world as army troops ordered them from the building at 534 Market St., opposite Second St., at 2:20 p.m. because of the approaching fire.

Latest casualty count: 750 people seriously injured people were being treated at various hospitals at 2:30 p.m.

Dynamiting of buildings around the U.S. Mint at Fifth and Mission streets began at 2:30 p.m.

U.S. Army Signal Corps established Ferry Building telegraph operations at 3 p.m.

Mayor Schmitz appointed the Committee of Fifty at 3 p.m. at the Hall of Justice. The mayor also said:

“Let it be given out that three men have already been shot down without mercy for looting. Let it also be understood that the order has been given to all soldiers and policemen to do likewise without hesitation in the cases of any and all miscreants who may seek to take advantage of the city’s awful misfortune.”
The Mayor appointed ex-Mayor James Phelan to head the Relief Committee.

Fifty or more corpses had been buried by the police in Portsmouth Square by 5 p.m because the morgue and police pistol range could hold no more bodies.

Mayor Schmitz, at 8 p.m., was still confident that a good part of downtown could be saved. Unfortunately a possible arsonist set fire to the Delmonico Restaurant in the Alcazar Theatre Building on O’Farrell near Stockton, and that blaze burned into Downtown and to Nob Hill.

War Department received a telegram from Gen. Funston at 8:40 p.m., Pacific Coast time, that asked for thousands of tents and all available rations. Funston placed the death toll at 1000.

Firefighters attempted to make a stand at 9 p.m. along Powell St. between Sutter and Pine, but it was unsuccessful in keeping the fire from sweeping up Nob Hill.

Crocker- Woolworth Bank Building at Post and Market took fire at 9 p.m.


April 19, 1906
Governor Pardee arrived in Oakland at 2 a.m. He was supposed to arrive three hours earlier, but his train was stalled because of sinking of the track in the Susuin marshes. The governor said he would declare a bank holiday today.

St. Francis Hotel at Union Square caught fire at 2:30 a.m.

Mayor Schmitz and Capt. Thomas Magner of Engine No. 3 found a cistern at the Hopkins Mansion, Mason and California streets, at 4 a.m., and attempted to keep the fire from burning the structure. They were not successful.

Secretary of War Taft at 4 a.m. ordered 200,000 rations sent to San Francisco from the Vancouver Barracks.

Secretary Taft ordered all hospital, wall and conical tents sent to San Francisco from army posts at Vancouver; Forts Douglas, Logan, Snelling, Sheridan and Russell, from San Antonio and the Presidio of Monterey.

Secretary Taft wired Gen. Funston at 4:55 a.m. that all tents in the U.S. Army were en route to San Francisco.

“Call,” “Chronicle” and “Examiner” printed a combined newspaper today on the presses of the “Oakland Herald.”

176 prisoners moved from city prison to Alcatraz.

“U.S.S. Chicago” arrived in San Francisco Bay at 6 p.m.

The Great Fire reached Van Ness Avenue during the evening. The army dynamited mansions along the street in an attempt to build a fire break. Demolition to stop the fire was ordered by Colonel Charles Morris of the Artillery Corps.


April 20, 1906
The fire burned as far as Franklin St. by 5 a.m., then attempted to circle south.

At the foot of Van Ness Avenue, 16 enlisted men and two officers from the “U.S.S. Chicago” supervised the rescue of 20,000 refugees fleeing the Great Fire. It was the largest evacuation by sea in history, and probably as large as the evacuation of Dunkirk during World War II.

Fire approached the Appraisers’ Building for a second time at 3 p.m. Lt. Freeman attempted to pump saltwater from the Bay but found that his hose connections would not fit those of the Fire Department, so the effort was abandoned.

Gen. Funston issued General Orders No. 37 which placed Lt. Col. George Torney of the Medical Department in full control of sanitation in San Francisco.

Gen. Funston wired War Department at 8:30 p.m. on status of the fire. He advised that Fort Mason has been saved, and some looters have been shot. His telegram said most casualties are in the poorer districts, South of Market St.; not many killed in better portion of the city.


April 21, 1906
Haig Patigian’s statue of President McKinley, commissioned for the city of Arcata, found in the rubble of a local foundry and saved by several artisans who carried it into the street.

The fire that swept the Mission District was stopped at 20th and Dolores sts. by three- thousand volunteers and a few firemen who fought the blaze with knapsacks, brooms and a little water from an operating hydrant at 20th and Church.


April 22, 1906
Fire Chief Engineer Dennis T. Sullivan died at the Army General Hospital at the Presidio at 1 a.m.

Father Ricard at the University of Santa Clara wrote to the “San Jose Mercury”:

The earthquake period is gone. Once the pent up forces of nature have had a vent, nothing of a serious nature need be apprehended. At the most a succession of minor shocks may be felt and that’s all. It is not unreasonable, therefore, for people to continue in dread of a new destructive temblor. People should fearlessly go to work and repair mischief done and sleep quietly at night anywhere at all, especially in wooden frame. Never mind foreboders of evil: they do not know what they are talking about. Seismonetry is in its infancy and those therefore who venture out with predictions of future earthquakes when the main shock has taken place ought to be arrested as disturbers of the peace.
Major-General Adolphus W. Greely, Commander of the army’s Pacific Division returned to San Francisco.

United Railroad crews began stringing temporary overhead trolley wires on Market St., but did not repair the cable traction system in the street.


April 23, 1906
Governor Pardee told a newspaper reporter, “The work of rebuilding San Francisco has commenced, and I expect to see the great metropolis replaced on a much grander scale than ever before.”

Imperial decree on the 30th Day of the Third Moon from Empress Dowager of China to send 100,000 taels as a personal contribution to the relief of the San Francisco sufferers. President Theodore Roosevelt declined the offer, as well as donations from other foreign governments.


Return to the 1906 Earthquake exhibit.
Return to the top of the page.