The 1906 Earthquake: The Day San Francisco Was Destroyed

Image: George R. Lawrence (1869-1938), George R. Lawrence Co.

San Francisco lies in ruins on May 28, 1906, about six weeks after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire.

On April 17th 1906 the people of San Francisco went to bed as usual. The city was a bustling hive of life, a burgeoning metropolis barely 60 years old that had already become known for its colourful style, grandiose mansions, majestic hotels and blooming arts scene. Little did the city’s people know upon retiring for the night that, just before dawn, their lives – and their city – would be changed forever.

At 5:12 a.m. the next morning, a brief foreshock hit the city. Doors and windows rattled in their frames and loose plaster crumbled from walls. But, this was a mere taste of things to come, for a mere half minute after the initial tremor, the real earthquake struck. With the epicentre only three miles from San Francisco herself, the city was hit hard indeed.

Image: Arnold Genthe

Aftermath of the San Francisco earthquake

The apocalyptic energies of tectonic movement would make some think Armageddon had come and that the world’s end was close at hand. For many unfortunate souls this was true, for the brutal power of the earthquake was to bring an abrupt end to many lives. The colossal seismic upheaval would last barely a minute, but the devastation it wrought would be regarded as one of the worst natural disasters in the history of the United States.