Top 10 Things You Didn’t Know About San Francisco’s Cable Cars

Ever since they became a part of the city’s transit system, they have been iconic mainstays of its cityscape

When the System Opened, It Was Derided as Socialism

(Courtesy of the SFMTA Photo Archive / ©2011 SFMTA)

When San Francisco launched its municipal railway system (Muni) in December 1912, the trade journals of the day called it an “experiment in Socialism.” In a way, it was: a government agency was taking over an industry previously dominated by private companies.

Since 1900, one of the provisions of San Francisco’s city charter had been the eventual ownership of all the city’s utilities– not only its cable cars, but its streetcars and trolleys as well. The city raised funds and issued bonds to make this possible. But the Great Earthquake of 1906 scuttled these plans. The money went instead (and appropriately) to rebuilding the city’s streets. New funding and legislation was adopted in 1909. The Geary Street Municipal Railway was built in 1912, opening to great fanfare on December 28—becoming the first metropolitan street railway to be owned and operated by the people of an American city. The cable cars became part of Muni in two phases, 1944 (Powell lines) and 1952 (California line).

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