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Market Street Railway Company, Past, Present and Future

Street Railways are most businesslike and yet the history of Market Street Railway for one is filled with romance, a story of remarkable evolution from little beginnings up to a great system which leading railway engineers have valued in excess of sixty millions of dollars, "reproduction cost new" and upon which our own City Engineer O'Shaughnessy placed a valuation of $40,000,000 as a fair price for the City to pay for its purchase.

Its history is interwoven with the romance of San Francisco. Its present is a splendid reality. Its future arouses interest and stirs the imagination. These Railways have forty years yet to live, a longer time than its consolidated system has been in existence, since the longest franchise will be alive in 1965. Forty years is a long time, nearly half a century. What changes, improvements, developments, enhancements in value will come within that time?

Who Knows? One scarcely dares contemplate the changes which may come to us ourselves, and to those around us, as we look forward through so many years. Many of us will long since then have "shuffled off this mortal coil" and go to that country "from whose bourne no traveler ever returns," not even on street cars!

In 1860 the "Pioche Railroad" was started by the Market Street Railway Company, which graded Market Street. This road at first was operated by steam dummies, later by means of horses.

In 1870 the first "Balloon" car was built. This car carried its own turn table and was drawn by mules. When the end of the line was reached the driver lifted a pin running from the body of the car to the trucks, turned the mules in a half circle to where the rear of the car had been, and stuck the pin back in, ready for the return trip.

In 1873 Andrew S. Hallidie invented the first cable car, which started up Clay Street on August 2nd, 1873, from Kearny Street to Jones Street, a distance of twenty-eight hundred feet.

In 1893, twenty years later, an electric line commenced operating, and gradually replaced the cable cars.

A comparison of the past and present of San Francisco's street railways cannot but cause better appreciation of the city's street car transportation facilities.

The standard little old horse car was about twenty-five feet long an averaged seats for fourteen passengers, with room for five to stand. "Bob-tailed" cars were run also.

The new Blue and Gold Car just inaugurated by the Market Street Railway Company is 47 feet long, over bumpers, has a seating capacity for 50 passengers, and is "Made in San Francisco by San Franciscans for San Franciscans." These big electric cars are known as the California type, having an open section in front and back, so passengers may take advantage of San Francisco's splendid climate.

In early days, in spite of the inconveniences of street railways travel and the very short distance that a passenger could ride, the fare was twenty-five cents. Now, not-withstanding the tremendous advance in all costs, 260,000,000 passengers, including those using transfers, rode on the Market Street Railway Company last year [1924] for a five cent fare, which also entitled them to transfers good all over the system, on cars equipped with modern conveniences, a ride exceeding 20 miles if a person desired to use all transfer privileges. In other words, for these new and modern conveniences, for liberal transfer privileges and for a long ride, a passenger today pays only one-fifth of the charge of early days.

The Company has achieved the remarkable record of carrying more than a billion passengers without a single fatality, and car miles run by it in a year are more than equal to 1200 times the circumference of the globe. New employees are taught the mechanics of the cars before they are entrusted with their operation. In the early days of street railways in San Francisco the number of men employed was insignificant, but the Company is furnishing in recent years steady employment year after year to more than three thousand persons, and, including the dependents, furnishes a means of livelihood for more than twelve thousand people with a payroll approximating five million dollars a year. This large amount of money which is distributed in San Francisco must have an appreciable influence upon the trade of this community, for merchants large and small must certainly participate in its benefits.

The Company is mindful, too, of its men and any story concerning it would be incomplete if a special mention be not made of their responsive faithfulness and loyalty.

Many hundreds of its stockholders are residents of San Francisco.

As to the future: The length of time of the franchises under which the Market Street Railway will continue to operate is not appreciated generally. Very important franchises extend beyond 1940, others covering no inconsiderable portion of the Company's mileage extend to varying dates from 1952 to 1965, whereas those which do not extend beyond 1930 cover less than twenty percent of its total mileage. Market Street Railway Company has forty years to live, four decades. Within that number of years in the past, many great changes and well-neigh incredible developments have taken place, and within that space of time in the future the city's population may well quadruple.

The Company is contemplating placing in service cable cars on which the cable grip and brakes are operated by air, a recent invention to displace the present unwieldy manually operated grip, give more space and convenience for passengers, and materially lighten the work of gripmen. This is the first substantial improvement in method of operating cable cars, since their inauguration. And so goes the tale, which might be carried on indefinitely, always with items of interest.

San Francisco News Letter
September 1925

For more on San Francisco streetcars, see History by Subject.

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