The San Francisco Earthquake of 1906

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It's 5:12 AM, April 18, 1906. Extremely loud low pitched rumbling wakes many people up from their sleep. This rumbling sound was caused by the Pacific and American Tectonic plates scraping along each other at the San Andreas fault. A shock suddenly hits San Francisco, and it shakes the ground for 45 seconds. Another tremblor - 8.3 on the Richter Scale 0 hits for another 25 seconds. Chaos reigned the streets of San Francisco. Later,  4.7 square miles would be destroyed, 225,000 people would go homeless, over 3,000 people died, and 28,000 buildings were destroyed(The San Francisco Earthquake and Fire,1). While the San Francisco Earthquake of 1906 destroyed thousands of buildings and was one of the greatest tragedies of the United States, it affected the world positively through a social and technological change while tragically destroying a whole city and its economy. Because the San Francisco earthquake affected the city economically by damaging many things to make rebuilding cost a lot, technologically by inspiring new building codes and causing a newly built, better San Francisco, and socially by making much of the population come together and help each other through the people lost almost everything they had.

        In 1906, San Francisco was built mostly on fill dirt dumped into the bay, which was extremely unstable. Terrible building codes and wooden buildings caused the fire to spread rapidly and kill many people trapped in buildings. Tectonic plates rubbing against each other caused the San Andreas Fault to rupture for 280 miles. This rupture started 200 miles north of the city and sped along south at the speed of 2 miles per second, and the land at the fault moved as much as twelve feet.  Based on information known about the 1906 earthquake, today, scientists have rated it an intensity of IX on the Mercalli scale, developed by Giuseppe Mercalli in the early 20th century, around the time of the earthquake. On the Richter scale, created by Seismologist Dr. Charles Richter Proposed a scale that measures the earth's magnitude, or how much energy something releases, the earthquake was rated at 8.3(Chippendale, 31).

        The San Francisco Earthquake of 1906 had a significant impact socially by bringing people to work together. Because of many people becoming homeless and being killed, the population of San Francisco had to work together to improve conditions. Dan Kurzman shows what conditions were like and how people interacted when he says talks about over how 200,000 people became homeless, living in tents, and cooking meals with grass. He explains that the refugees would get food that was provided by relief groups, and these lines for blocks. Everybody shared food, utensils, stoves, pots, pans, and many other essential items(223). Even though the people were in a bad situation, they came together to create a better environment aside from all the devastation. Though the San Francisco Earthquake of 1906 was helpful in making teamwork happen, still many people lost everything they had. The San Francisco Chronicle reports from a day afterward how badly the earthquake impacted the people socially when it talks about thousands of people making their way to Golden Gate Park to find refuge from the fire. Many people also went back to the city to salvage what they could from the remains of the city. Lastly, it reports how at least 500 people were dead at the time, and that Confusion Reigned(Earthquake and Fire; San Francisco in Ruins 1). Many people were impacted negatively by the earthquake, being killed and losing everything they had. The San Francisco Earthquake impact the people socially by devastating them, but also by bringing them together to improve conditions.

        The San Francisco Earthquake of 1906 impacted the world technologically by improving building methods. For example, Louise Chipley shows this when she says, A [new] 74-mile long water-main system was redesigned to make it easier to shut off water to earthquake damaged parts of the city(105). The downfall of the city made other earthquakes much safer and influenced other cities. Many new building codes were created after the earthquake to prevent such a disaster from happening. Mitchell Earth Sciences talks generally about this when they state, "At the time of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, many California municipalities had building codes, but none considered seismic effects. Not surprisingly, the 1906 earthquake sparked discussion of improving earthquake engineering design and incorporating those improvements in regulatory codes. Professional organizations, particularly the Seismological Society of America, which formed in 1906, and later, the Structural Engineers Association of California, were persistent advocates of code provisions for earthquake-resistant construction(1). The earthquake helped a lot of people to create new building codes to influence the world and make San Francisco much safer from before. Through these actions after the earthquake, San Francisco influenced many other cities to have much better protection against earthquakes with a great impact technologically.

        The San Francisco Earthquake of 1906 was very significant economically tragically but with lots of help from other cities, countries, and people, San Francisco rose from the ashes to become a greater city than ever before. The earthquake had a huge impact economically on people losing everything they had and having to recover. For example, Sydney Tyler explains this well when she talked about many people, rich or poor, lost almost everything. H.W. Crocker, President of Crocker National Bank lost 7.5 million dollars to the earthquake and its intensity. Also, insurance wouldn't cover peoples' losses because they themselves also lost a lot of money(299). The earthquake caused so much devastation that many people lost everything they had which made a lot of chaos and turmoil throughout the city. The rebuilding cost a lot, but many people and organizations supported the rebuilding. For example, Chippendale proves how the government helped a lot of banks, and the city when she states, The U.S. Mint provided a steady source of cash until the banks could recover, and mechanisms for receiving goods were in places"(187). Though many people were destroyed, economically, the city of San Francisco came back better than ever.

        Some may think that instead of this disaster coming out at the end as a triumph, the disaster stayed as a huge tragedy and people back then didn't learn their lesson. This may be true because in some instances, such as filling the bay with fill dirt which is unstable ground that collapses easily made with dirt, and after 1906, rubble, were repeated to make the 1989 earthquake have the same effects as before. This may be true, but there are many more triumphs with people helping each other and rebuilding still many things better, than the tragedies of the economy or some hurried building of the city.

        Though the San Francisco Earthquake of 1906 was one of the greatest tragedies of the United States when tragically destroying a whole city and its economy by making rebuilding cost a lot, it affected the world positively socially by making the population come together and technologically through inspiring a newly built better San Francisco. The earthquake's short term impact was killing thousands, making many people homeless, and destroying 504 blocks of San Francisco. Though tragic, these events set up a triumph in the long term impact. Within days, San Francisco was up and running, with new buildings being created and rubble being cleared as quickly as possible. Also new fire training was deployed, and new building codes were created. This all added up to San Francisco back up as one of the greatest cities in the west yet again. These events also lessened the effect of the 1989 earthquake Loma Prieta, though there were still some lessons not learned. Though the San Francisco Earthquake of 1906 was a great tragedy, at the end, however, it resulted in a triumph by improving the city so it would become one of the leading cities of the west. 

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The San Francisco Earthquake Of 1906. (2019, Aug 08). Retrieved May 21, 2024 , from

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