Earthquake Facts

The Great San Francisco Earthquake of 1906

san francisco earthquake history

Founded in 1776, San Francisco remained a small town until gold was discovered in California in 1848. As the gold miners' supply station, San Francisco became a boom town. By 1906 it was one of the nation's major cities with a half-million people. Its location near several of California's many faults, including the San Andreas Fault, made San Francisco prone to earthquakes. Quakes shook the region in 1838. But no one was prepared for what happened in the spring of 1906.

At 5:12 am, on April 18, underground rocks broke along the San Andreas Fault just ten miles from San Francisco. A loud roar could be heard as the earth shook for a minute, toppling buildings. Within 15 minutes, dozens of fires were raging in downtown San Francisco. The fires burned for three days and were so intense that reddish smoke was visible to ships 100 miles out at sea.

The quake and fires destroyed much of San Francisco. Half the city's residents lost their homes. Many survivors fled San Francisco and never returned, making an accurate casualty count impossible. Although the death toll from the Great San Francisco Earthquake and Fire is often placed at 700, some historians insist that more than 3,000 people died in this disaster.

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