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Southern Pacific Railroad Co. was aggressive in its attempt to rewrite the history of the San Francisco earthquake and fire. As part of that campaign, the publicity department of the railroad churned out hundreds of articles like this to highlight the damage from fire, and minimize the effects of the earthquake; to "set the record straight," as one piece of SP literature put it.

Note how his article casually dismisses the earthquake in San Francisco and surrounding communities, and stresses that the worst results from the tremor were outside the city.

This is a classic example of disinformation.

The size of the evacuation by rail detailed in this article is staggering. The evacuation of 300,000 people by train in nine days would equal the sea evacuation of Dunkirk in 1940. 


A fire, unprecedented in size in any city, swept over two thousand eight hundred and thirty-one acres of San Francisco on April 18th, 19th and 20th, destroying the business section and a part of the residence district.

The conflagration was the result of a disastrous combination of conditions. The earthquake preceding the fire (at 5:13 a.m. on the 18th), strongest in the low range of mountains and along the bay marshes south of the city; had there caused breaks in the main pipelines from the city's water supply. The great fire began in a region of closely built frame structures along narrow streets in the older residence section. The weather was dry, the wind was right spread the fire, and the fire department had little water. From small beginnings the flames unfolded as a fan in the district south of Market Street, and then attacking the business section crept up the hills to the broader streets, where the stubbornly fighting fire department, with improvised weapons, stopped them.

The Imperishable Spirit of San Francisco.

With the smoke clouds overhead, and the ashes but half cooled beneath its feet, the imperishable spirit of San Francisco asserted itself. The owners of business blocks, watching them burn, planned greater buildings by the light of the fire. It was the optimism of faith and courage, not bravado and carelessness. For these business men are making good.

Systematically and immediately the quickly organized Citizens' Committee, the city, federal and state authorities, the railways and other agencies of power began the work of relief and reconstruction. Peace and order were maintained, shelter and food provided the destitute who had nowhere to go, and the main streets cleared for traffic. The business men laid aside personal affairs in the hour when personal needed them most, and gave their time and thought to the common good. The railroads gave, unsolicited, free transportation to the fleeing refugees, and carried free the contributions of the nation for the relief of San Francisco. The president of the Southern Pacific and Union Pacific [Edward F. Harriman], hurrying westward as fast as steam would carry him to take part personally in the work of relief and restoration, wired ahead to turn all these lines over without charge to the work of relieving San Francisco.

The Southern Pacific, whose ferry service between San Francisco and Oakland Pier, and rail service beyond, was not interrupted so much as one hour, threw open its gates to refugees and carried free on its suburban, local and through trains from San Francisco during the nine days succeeding the disaster three hundred thousand people. On the 19th that system moved from San Francisco an average of seventy passengers a minute without mishap.

The Response of the Country.

Profoundly moved by the disaster, the country rose to the occasion in one common impulse of brotherhood. Into the hands of the Relief Committee in San Francisco money was poured by the millions, and supplies by the trainload were sent from all directions. Up to the first of June almost seventeen hundred cars of volunteer relief supplies had been transported free of charge into San Francisco by Southern Pacific. The fleet of ferry boats of that company on San Francisco Bay were turned over to the Government, and supplies landed at the various relief station piers as desired. Freight trains with these supplies ran westward from Omaha, southward from Portland and northward from Los Angeles on passenger schedules. Relief followed close on the heels of want.

Oakland, Berkeley, Alameda across the bay, and a score of other nearby cities organized relief committees and prepared to care for the homeless thousands. San Jose and smaller cities which had not escaped disaster buried their troubles beneath high courage, and provided for thousands of San Francisco refugees. More than sixty California towns and more than twenty in Oregon sent a carload or more each of supplies. The nation at large gave millions in money.

Exaggerated and Untrue Reports.

Inevitably in the excitement following a tremendous disaster, many wild reports were send abroad. The earthquake with its mystery appealed to the imaginative and emotional, who, in their excitement, scarce knew the line between observation and imagination, and as had been dryly said, "sees things worse and worse as they tell the story of their visions over and over." A not too scrupulous class of sensation makers have published untrue stories in which the earthquake largely grows, hoping to attract readers.

Buffalo, N.Y. Gazetteer and Guide
August 1906
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